Crabbe, Cal men’s basketball stage dramatic comeback over USC

Tony Zhou/Staff

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On Sunday night at Haas Pavilion, Allen Crabbe sojourned from the darkest pits of his frustration to the highest state of euphoria.

For the first 35 minutes in the 76-68 victory against USC, Crabbe couldn’t find his shot. The guard was shooting 5-for-13 and 2-for-8 from behind the 3-point line. At the 16-minute mark of the second half, Crabbe’s frustration finally boiled over.

After a verbal confrontation with Cal men’s basketball coach Mike Montgomery, sparked by a physical shove by Montgomery, Crabbe had to be held back by his teammates. He spent several minutes in the players’ tunnel, being calmed by guard Justin Cobbs.

“It was coach using his words to motivate me,” Crabbe said. “I think it motivated me more. (My teammates) told me keep my head in the game.”

It took Crabbe 12 minutes to turn that extra fire into points. But when it came to fruition, it drove Haas Pavilion to a frenzy unmatched by any game this season.

With Cal (16-9, 8-5 in the Pac-12) down as much as 10 at the six-minute mark, Crabbe made his first 3-pointer of the second half to cut the deficit to four. It was a part of a 11-0 run that completed the comeback.

At the 3:35 mark, Cobbs knocked down a 3-pointer — his only 3-pointer of the night — to give the Bears their first lead since the halfway point of the first half. When Trojans guard Jio Fontan responded with a 3-pointer of his own, Crabbe answered back with a deep 3-pointer.

The Bears never looked back. Seconds away from the two-minute mark, Crabbe hit one more 3-pointer for the dagger shot, giving Cal a 68-64 lead.

In entirety, Crabbe shot 8-for-16 for a team-high 23 points. Despite his knee tightening up late in the second half, Cobbs trailed behind with 22 points and six assists.

“It worked, didn’t it?” Montgomery said. “We were just standing around, and nobody was ready to play.

“Allen’s my guy. We need him to get going.”

The plausibility of a Cal victory would’ve sounded like crazy talk as late as the halfway point in the second half. With 16 minutes remaining, the Trojans (12-14, 7-6) were winning 47-32, the biggest margin of the game. The Bears tried to tighten the deficit, but the physical USC defense kept taking them out.

“Their physical play took us out,” Montgomery said. “We let them get to us. We were on our heels.”

Guards J. T. Terrell and Byron Wesley led the Trojans’ offense with 17 and 16 points, respectively. In the first half, Terrell scored 10 points in 11 attempts. In the second half, Wesley knocked down four 3-pointers to keep USC afloat.

But the Trojans lacked productivity from their forwards. Defensively, the big men couldn’t match up against forwards David Kravish and Richard Solomon. Solomon carried his hot streak from the UCLA game on Friday with 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and seven rebounds.

With his slam dunks, Solomon provided electric jolts at several points of the game. But none was more electric than the last one, the exclamation point to the thrilling victory.

With 20 seconds remaining, Solomon mustered one last emphatic dunk, stamping the victory in the minds of all witnessing fans.

Seung Y. Lee covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].